For nearly four years, Jericho City of Praise, one of the largest churches in the Washington area, has been the object of a power struggle between the son of the sanctuary’s late founders and elders who took control of the church after the second of the two founders died in 2010.
Since then, the church has been without a permanent leader, as the founders’ son, Bishop Joel Peebles, and thousands of his followers have worshipped in public-school auditoriums, sponsored programs and filed lawsuits in hopes of returning to the 100-acre campus in Landover. In the schism, all but of a few hundred of Jericho’s estimated 19,000 members left the church.
Leaders at Jericho hope they can begin writing a new chapter on Sunday. The Rev. Jasmin “Dr. Jazz” Sculark, an evangelist of national standing who is known as the “Daughter of Thunder,” will be officially installed as the pastor of Jericho by Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Rev. John K. Jenkins and a host of local and national pastors.
While Sculark, a native of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, is accustomed to preaching to large congregations across the United States, for the past six months at Jericho she has quietly built a flock that is now numbers about 1,000. The goal has been to restore the sense of pride and community that was a hallmark of the church before the death of Betty Peebles’s in 2010. Her husband, James Peebles, with whom she founded the church, died in 1996.
Sculark said she hopes to continue the church’s grand tradition of being a mandatory stop for nationally known speakers and a site for gospel recordings, and to move the church beyond its recent troubles. Joel Peebles has waged a legal battle to gain control of the church, which is run by a board comprising some of his late mother’s closest employees.
But on Sunday, Sculark, who arrived at Jericho in April, hopes to usher in a period of tranquility at Jericho. She spoke with The Post’s Hamil Harris recently about her vision.
Q. What have the first six months of Jericho been like? What do you think you have accomplished?
A. Every Sunday I walk into this building and I am speechless. I can’t believe that God would give me such a great opportunity to minister to such a great people, in such a great place. And what have I been doing? Staging a comeback and to help Jericho with one of the biggest comebacks. I just believe that if you could stage a comeback in football and in baseball, a great ministry can do so. I have just been encouraging the people, supporting them, loving them and preaching the word of God to them.
You’re well known for coming into a city and preaching, but this has been a different experience in terms of being a pastor.
First of all, I was pastoring the church in York Pennsylvania for 11 years, and my priority has always been the local church where I am pastoring. So although I travel, home is always taken care of. Jericho brings a whole new list of challenges, and I would not have it any other way. I’ve gotten off the road more so I could be here. Here is my first love, here is my first assignment.
You are standing in the footsteps of a great woman of God, Apostle Betty Peebles. What has this experience been like? Scary? Intimidating?
In terms of standing in the shoes of Apostle Betty, I will never be able to fill those shoes. That woman was a game changer. I am thankful that God has allowed me to build on the foundation of Apostle Betty Peebles.
Is there anything that you think you could do to bring people together? Bishop Joel Peebles said that he hopes to come back to Jericho. Have you had any conversations with him?
I just trust God. I have not had any conversations with him, but I want everybody to know that no matter who they are, my hope is that God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
You have a unique style. You have what many people call style and substance, theology and bling. Do people criticize you for having too much flash?
Doctor John Booth taught me God uses you through your personality. For many years, I tried to do everybody else, but there is a reason my mother named me Jasmin. There is a reason people call me Jazz. I have to be what God wants me to be: My own authentic personality, Dr. Jazz, Daughter of Thunder.
I’ve always been both style and substance, because it is a prerequisite to your destiny. If you don’t understand your identity, you can’t understand your destiny. I don’t know what happened, but one day I just woke up in my identity. Nobody can beat me being me.
What is God telling you to do? When you talk to God at night, what is on your prayer pillow?
I feel like Solomon. He doesn’t ask for riches; he doesn’t ask for wealth. He said: Just give me wisdom. That is my prayer when I look at the Jericho City of Praise. There is nothing in my résumé that qualifies me to handle this mega ministry. I simply asked God to give me wisdom.